I'd been meaning to read The Name of the Rose: including the Author's Postscriptfor some time now, and I finally did! (Yeah, not a big achievement in the grand scheme of things.)
It's a mystery, of course -- a Franciscan friar and a Benedictine novice are tasked with discovering who's been killing the brothers at a monastery -- but that's not enough for the semiotician Eco. It is also an intellectual exercise, as Eco spends vast chunks of the book on medieval life, politics, and religious strife, particularly the disputes that arose between various Franciscan orders*, heretics, Church hierarchy, and the increasingly secular rulers of various countries. Eco also uses his characters to have in-depth discussions on faith and knowledge, and the intersection of the two. While it won't be for everyone, it is a satisfying read, both entertaining and challenging.
Some people have argued that this book is anti-Catholic, but I don't think it is. Yes, Church politics are a mess, but, well, they were in the 14th century -- the Church was losing much of its political power as governments became increasingly secular, the papacy was in Avignon (and eventually some anti-popes showed up), and there was the aforementioned infighting amongst the various Franciscan factions and the rest of the Church over the moral and theological significance of poverty (heh, the heads of capitalist Catholics would explode at some of the decidedly socialist theology of the time). Many of the monks and friars in the novel are quite sinful, but so is everybody; we have a tendency to hold religious people to a higher standard (rightly or wrongly), such that we forget they are flawed humans like the rest of us. Tellingly, very few of Eco's characters are actual hypocrites; even the most sinful ones struggle in one way or another with their actions, and display a genuine faith in God.
One article I read discussed in particular on the fate of the library that is the pride of the monastery, described as the largest collection of works in Europe but heavily restricted in who can have actual access to the books. The destruction of the library (ok, spoiler, but you can see it coming) represents, to him, Eco's notion that the Church itself must be destroyed if knowledge and intellectual inquiry are to flourish. I think this argument goes too far, however. Through his characters Eco acknowledges that it is because of the Church that so much knowledge, so many ancient texts, were preserved, and the severe restrictions on actually reading them are seen as the result of the particular beliefs of the librarians in charge, and not of the Church as a whole.
Eco is, I think, an atheist, and definitely a modernist, and so of course some of those ideas are present in the book; it was written in the 20th century, after all. But their mere presence, even in sympathetic passages, is not enough to make this novel an anti-Catholic polemic. Especially not when Eco portrays men of genuine faith in far more nuanced ways than they are usually shown.
*In an attempt to understand what was going on, I did a little research on the Franciscans and ended up with a headache. Fr. Beadbrother, O.S.B., told me of a long-standing joke, where one of the things even God doesn't know is how many Franciscan orders there are. (The others are what a Benedictine means by stability, what the Jesuits are up to, what a Dominican said, and what a diocesan priest means by obedience to his bishop; it's a little insider-baseballish.)